What is an employee handbook?

You may not have heard of an employee handbook or, if you have, you may not know why they are important or what they should contain. This article is intended to answer these questions and some others too.

Employee Handbook


What is an employee handbook?

An employee handbook (sometimes also called a staff handbook) is a collection of policies and procedures which lay out how things should be done in that particular workplace. For example, the procedure for handling sickness absence or grievances – to give two examples. An employee handbook should be easily accessible to everyone so that information can easily be found without the need to search, or to ask for it.


What goes in an employee handbook?

There are no set rules on what goes into an employee handbook. For that reason, the length of them, and the content included, varies greatly depending on the organisation concerned and how it wishes to communicate with its staff. For example, some organisations choose to make their employee handbook an extensive document covering every potential eventuality, whilst others may opt for a slimmer version.

What makes a good employee handbook?

There are many elements involved, but here are our top 5 recommendations for what makes a good employee handbook:

It should be accessible

An employee handbook should be a useful resource which can be relied on to provide the answer to work related questions. If it is hidden away in a drawer somewhere, or no-one knows where it went after it was written, the document cannot serve a useful purpose because it has never been seen. Whoever you choose to produce a handbook for you make sure everyone knows where to find it: perhaps it is on the cloud, work intranet or everyone is given a hard copy.

It should be customised

No business is the same so why would you settle for a handbook that is identical to others. What you choose to include (or exclude) in terms of policies and procedures, and the tone of that documentation, should be considered with care so that any material is tailored to the needs and requirements of your organisation.

It should be relevant

Any material in an employee handbook should be consistent with what happens in the workplace. For example, if a line manager says that a situation should be dealt with one way and the employee handbook says another that would cause problems. Such an inconsistency causes the employee handbook to become irrelevant. What should happen is that everyone is familiar with the contents of the handbook and therefore everybody knows how matters will be handled in a range of circumstances.

It should be updated

As well as laying out policies and procedures an employee handbook will often provide dates when policies will be reviewed and by whom. If these timeframes are not updated or a person referred to in the handbook left years ago the handbook becomes an irrelevant afterthought which few people would feel confident relying on.

It should be a reflection of an organisation’s personality

The handbook should capture what is expected from employees. Every organisation has a different outlook and view of how things should be done. Whatever those preferences are, have them expressed in the handbook so that your organisation’s spirit or personality is clear for all to see.

Why are employee handbooks important?

  1. Having access to this information to hand means that answers can be found swiftly and independently.


  1. Having information in a handbook means that an individual who is considering raising an issue will know how the matter will be dealt with from the outset and is therefore more likely to have confidence that the matter will be properly handled.



  1. They set out the way things are done, and situations handled. Having policies and procedures written down and adhered to ensures that issues are dealt with consistently and that all involved will be treated fairly. In addition, it sets out a framework for those with the responsibility of addressing the issue in question.


  1. A handbook also sets out expectations in terms of standards and behaviours and therefore it is easier for employees to know whether they are behaving in ways which meet those standards or not.


  1. As referred to earlier, an employee handbook often sets out who would have responsibility for what, such as health and safety, which increases accountability and standards.


Is an employee handbook required by law?

No, an employee handbook is not required by law, but is important for the reasons given above.

Employee handbook vs employment contract

An employment contract is essential and must contain certain information. If a contract is not provided, or it does not contain the required information, an Employment Tribunal can make an award against an employer, albeit not as a standalone claim. However, an employee handbook is not a legal requirement but is instead concerned with making things clear. They are completely different documents, they have different functions. Having a contract in place will not remove the value that an employee handbook would have. Similarly, having a handbook in place would not negate the need for a contract.

What should I pay for an employee handbook?

The price varies dramatically depending on the provider, and the amount of customisation offered, but we would estimate that a customised employee handbook would require approximately 4 hours of work. The key issue is to know what you are getting and compare like with like.

Factors or questions to consider when considering what you should pay for an employee handbook are:

  1. Is any customisation provided?

It is easy to be tempted by providers who advertise a cheap handbook, or perhaps it is included as part of a bundle of other products or services, but what are you getting for your money? For example, does the provider offer guidance on what should be done with the documents that you have bought? A strong signal that limited or no customisation will be provided is when a provider has a buy now shopping cart. It is entirely reasonable to charge when an order is placed, but it is obviously important to know what it is you are purchasing before you take the plunge. Similarly, does the provider indicate on their website that there will be further input from them e.g. by asking questions in order to make documentation relevant. We offer employee handbooks at a fixed fee, and would see communication with clients as essential as we need to understand their circumstances in order to draft documentation which properly addresses those needs.

  1. If there is some customisation provided, what form does it take?

For example, is the customisation provided by a person, or are there simply guidance notes which clients are expected to interpret themselves? Are questions asked at the outset, either orally or over email, to go through the needs of the client and how best to address them?  Is there the facility to contact the provider for support if the handbook is causing confusion? If so, is that support provided over the phone or is assistance also available over email? Are you expected to make the changes yourself?

  1. Is the employee handbook provided as part of a bundle, do you want the other elements?

It may be that the bundle includes elements that you don’t need, such as a contract that you already have in place. If you have to pay for it anyway that would make the employee handbook element more expensive. Similarly, perhaps the handbook is included as part of an ongoing contract. If so, does that contract have a minimum term? If so, look into what the contract offers so that you are not swayed by a free handbook for example. We offer a handbook either as a stand alone item, or as part of a support package so that clients can choose the option that suits them best.

4. Who is providing the handbook?

There are a range of providers out there, but what is the area of their expertise? Do they specialise in HR? As has been said throughout, it is important that you have sufficient information to make an informed decision about what you wish to do. We work exclusively in the areas of HR and employment law.

As you will have seen, an employee handbook is an important document that needs to be put together with thought and care. At Plotkin & Chandler we work exclusively in the areas of HR and Employment Law. If you would like a handbook which is tailored to the needs of your organisation, and which is only drafted after discussion with you either by phone or email, please call us on 020 3923 8616 or email us at info@plotkinandchandler.com

We offer our bespoke handbooks as either a standalone service or as one of the activities undertaken as part of our retained support packages. For more details of our fees please click on the Our fees link.









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